The Hamlet of Overy lies across the River Thame. The present buildings of Overy were
mostly constructed in the 18thC, but the Hamlet probably laid down its roots some 700 years earlier. During the latter part of the 11thC, 2 Mills were Granted to the Dorchester Abbey Estate by Bishop Remigius, one on the River Thames, the other on the River Thame ‘beyond the Bridge’. Both were known as Overy Mill, but it was the latter, ” to the East over the Bridge on the Thame” which was the forerunner of the present Weatherboarded Building presiding over the Mill Pond and was still in operation as a Water Mill in the early 20thC. Dorchester’s Hamlet of Overy was not mentioned by name but there were evidently some houses there by this time. Its Mill, described as ‘beyond the Bridge‘ (ultra pontem) was working in 1146. The Bishop also had a 13thC Tenant Reginald, distinguished as of ultra aquam de Dorchester, i.e. of Overy. Overy, although small, was no poor relation. Before the middle of the 12thC, the Hamlet was Tithed separately from Dorchester and had its own Rectory, indicating a degree of wealth. It may even have had its own Church, perhaps one of the 3 around Dorchester that impressed Antiquary John Leland in the 16thC.
Its Mill, likely to be on the Site of one of the 2 – 11thC Mills Granted to the Abbey, is a Timber-framed building with Weatherboarding. All the houses at Overy, including the Mill-house and the so-called Manor-House, are 18thC brick buildings. The ‘Manor-House‘, long occupied by the Family of Davey, bears the initials & date WHD 1712.
There were 2 Watermills on the Abbey’s Estate in the Middle Ages, said to have been Granted to the Canons by Bishop Remigius (1072–92), although neither was mentioned in the Domesday Survey. One called Cudicah in 1163 was on the Thames, the other was on the River Thame. Both were known as Overy Mills. They followed the Descent of the Abbey’s Dorchester Manor until the Dissolution when the Crown Leased them to Roger Hatchman of Ewelme at 1st and later included them in the Grant of the Dorchester Abbey Estate to Sir Edmund Ashfield. Only one Mill was mentioned among Sir Edmund’s Property on his death in 1578, but in the 17thC his successors, the Fettiplaces, received Rent from ‘the Grist Mills‘, presumably the 2 Overy Mills. At the sale of the Fettiplace Estate in 1808, no mention was made of the Mills, which perhaps had already been sold. One Overy Mill continued to function until the early 20thC; the fate of the other is not known.
Overy Watermill, in Overy Lane. 18thC. Weatherboarded timber-framing on Brick Plinth plus some brick; old plain-tile Roof. Single Range. 2-Storeys plus Attics. Front, has 2 Entrances and irregular Fenestration. There is a Weatherboarded Gable, to the extreme right, plus 3 Gabled roof Dormers and small Gabled opening near the Ridge. The Roof is half-hipped to left and sweeps down at the rear, over a narrow Brick outshut. In front of the Mill is a pitched stone Pavement, above the Millpond, retained by a brick wall containing the 3 segmental-Arched openings of the Water Channels.
Overy is a small and pretty Hamlet in a Conservation area Southeast of Dorchester-on-Thames. Situated on a no-through Lane, the Hamlet comprises just a few period houses & conversions. Dorchester is well known for its historic Abbey and the long-curved Bridge built in 1815 spanning the willow-lined River Thame and is easily accessed by the A4074. The Barn, to the Northeast of Overy Manor, may be the only survivor from the 17thC in Overy, although it contains 18th & 19thC brickwork and was radically altered in the late 20thC when converted to domestic use. Overy Barn occupies a secluded position on the edge of the Hamlet, with its own Grounds, which are bound on 2 sides by the Mill Stream & Pond. Grade II listed and dating from the late 17th century, Overy Barn was converted in 1987 and recently renovated. It now provides a family home with a wealth of exposed beams and accommodation arranged over 2-Floors. In addition to the main house, there is an independent, 2-Storey Annexe. Originally a Victorian building at Wadham College in Oxford, it was dismantled & rebuilt in the Grounds of Overy Barn. Overy Barn is approached via a tree-lined gravel Driveway ending at a turning circle in front of the house There is a 4-bay open Barn used for undercover parking. Beyond the garden, fronting the Mill Stream is a Water Meadow with Mature Trees and a Large Pond. A Footpath across the Water Meadow leads directly to the Village and walks to the Wittenham Clumps, the Thames Path & Days Lock. The Hurst Water Meadow, historically attached to Overy Mill and open space of vital importance to the area, was secured in 1996 when it was purchased by the Residents and Parish Council of Dorchester to save it from unsuitable development and to provide a place for Recreation.
A comparatively large number of Dorchester Families remained Loyal to the Church of Rome. From 1603 the names of many are known; in 1641 9 were assessed for the Subsidy, and the Churchwardens made constant Presentments of Recusants and of people who failed to attend Church. From a list of 13 people who in 1666 failed to receive Easter Communion, almost all can be recognised as members of Roman Catholic Families. The figure of 6 Papists given in the Compton Census in 1676 is therefore almost certainly an under-estimate.
Roman Catholicism in the Parish has an unusual History in that it centred around several Yeoman Families. The only members of the Gentry listed as Recusants in the early 17thC were George Beauforest and a female relative. Of the Yeoman Families, the most important were the Days and the Daveys of Overy. One branch of the Day Family appears to have been Dorchester Lock-keepers, and the old Wittenham Ferry Lock was called Day’s Lock after them; another branch lived at Burcot. In the early 17th century Walter Day, Fisherman, and his wife Grace, and also Richard Day, Fisherman, were listed as Recusants; from the 1620s to the 1670s members of the Family were constantly Presented by the Churchwardens for absence from Church. Six were assessed for the Subsidy of 1641, and in the 1666 List of Abstainers from Easter Communion 5 were Days. One member of the Family served as Churchwarden at about this time, but it is by no means certain that he was an Anglican and this may simply be evidence for the Family’s predominant influence in the Village. Several Days were returned as Papists in the late 17th and early 18thCs, and in 1769 4 Days were members of the Britwell Prior Congregation to which the Dorchester Roman Catholics belonged at this period. In the early 19thC the Dorchester branch of the family died out.
Other 17thC Recusant Families were the Smiths, beginning with Hugh Smith, Tailor; the Coldrells (or Cowldwells); the Cherrills, who were not all Roman Catholics but intermarried with Roman Catholic Families; and the Princes, who were widespread in the neighbourhood and were sufficiently important in Overy to give their name to a group of Buildings. They 1st appear as Recusants in Dorchester in 1666, after the marriage in 1663 between John Prince and Grace Day, but by the early 18thC when 2 Papist members of the Family were ‘Labourers’ they had declined in Social importance, and the Family died out soon after. No Princes were listed among the Roman Catholic Congregation of Britwell Prior in 1769. Many of the Family were buried in Dorchester Churchyard, where their Tombstones can still be seen marked with the Cross as a sign that they Commemorated Roman Catholics.
The survival of Roman Catholicism in Dorchester was eventually due, however, to the Davey Family. This Family had been in Dorchester since at least 1566 but Ann, the wife of Richard Davey, was the 1st of the family to be listed (in 1641) as a Roman Catholic. About 1670 both she and her husband were Recusants, and about 1717 William Davey, Yeoman, who rebuilt Overy House, registered his Copyhold Estate as a papist.
Overy Manor House
The fine Stone Wall of Overy Manor curves round to join the main part of the Lane, being interrupted by an unexpected 2-Storey Bay window on the side Elevation of the House, before continuing around another corner to form a hard edge to the Drive of the Mill House. This is also the Public Footpath to the Mill Pool and to Dorchester beyond. Again, grass verges soften the edge between Road & Wall.
The Family intermarried with other Yeoman Families of their Faith in Dorchester and in neighbouring Parishes. Although the Community was only intermittently served by a resident Priest, it is probable that there were always visiting Priests. In the middle of the 18thC Mass was being said about 7 times a year in a Room, fully equipped with Altar Furniture, in the Farmhouse (inset) in Overy which had been the home of the Daveys before they moved in 1712 to Overy House. The Jesuit Father Gilbert Wells lived with the Daveys from 1752 to 1758, and Father Bernard Cassidy, SJ, head of the Oxford District, was there in 1773. At other times the Congregation was looked after by the Priest from Britwell Prior, which was for long a centre of Roman Catholicism. In 1769 Dorchester, with 9 members, formed (except for Britwell itself) the largest group in the Britwell Congregation. Besides the Daveys & Days, the Dorchester group had 2 members of the well-known local Family of Collingridge and it had so prospered by 1780 that it had 18 members. It was accustomed to being served by a ‘Missioner‘, but in about the 1770s there appears to have been some difficulty in finding a Priest for it and it was described as ‘now Destitute‘. In the 1790s, however, the Community was being served by a French Priest living with the Daveys. Later it was served from Thame and in the early 19thC from Oxford, Services being held in each place on alternate Sundays.
The increasing prosperity of the Davey Family was an advantage to the Community. William Davey, a successful Farmer and a speculator in Government Stocks, died in 1831, leaving £20,000. One son, George, was a large-scale Farmer, who made his home at Overy House a centre for his co-Religionists; another son John built the ‘Chapel’ of St Birinus at Dorchester in 1849. The Chapel’s 1st Priest was Robert Newsham, a Schoolmaster, who moved his School from Oxford when he settled at Dorchester. In 1851 his Congregation was said to average 60, an exaggeration according to the Vicar. In 1856 the Chapel was Registered for Marriages and from 1871 it had its own Churchyard.
The Rectory or Priest’s House in Dorchester-on-Thames, now known as Bridge House, was originally the Dower House for Overy Manor. It was built in 1802 and a succession of dowagers lived there until 1849 when the Church was built and the House became the Priest’s House. A succession of Priests have lived in the House ever since. The Presbytery has undergone renewal & restoration. It is a listed building, Grade II.
Part of the prosperity of the larger Farmer in Dorchester was due to a readiness to experiment with new Agricultural Methods. The Daveys of Overy were foremost in this. Already by 1757 William Davey (d.1767) paid the highest contribution to the Dorchester Church Rate and was clearly Farming most of Overy. His Farm Accounts show that he was producing wheat, beans, & barley for local Markets: in 1 year the wheat Crop fetched £438 & the barley £412. In some years Dealers came from as far afield as Hereford. His grandson William Davey (d.1831) paid over £8,000 for Land & Tithes at the Fettiplace Sale in 1808; Davey was a Founder of the Oxford Agricultural Society and was highly praised by Arthur Young as ‘one of the most intelligent Farmers‘ and ‘one of the best‘ in Oxfordshire. His contemporary Thomas Latham, who Farmed at Clifton & Dorchester, was also much quoted by Young. Between them, they established such a reputation for Dorchester Agriculture that Young advised other Farmers to visit the Town and George III is said to have driven over from Nuneham to see Davey’s Model Farm. Davey used a varying 4-course rotation with the emphasis on beans, peas, & turnips. He was one of the few Farmers who, according to Arthur Young, realised that beans should precede wheat & used root Crops to clean the ground. Sheep were an essential part of his farming. He had a flock of 600 sheep & lambs, which by 1808 were mainly South Downs. His Ploughing was much praised, but it is evident that his success depended on careful Husbandry and experiments with Crops. Young noted that he had little faith or success with the new Drills & Horseshoes. In the next Generation, his son George Davey was also a noted Agriculturalist and a successful Exhibitor at Smithfield.
Overy Hamlet Tithe Map 1841
The influence of the Davey Family continued to be strong. When John Davey died in 1863 he left his home, Bridge House, to his nephew, Henry Davey, who was Priest at the Chapel from 1864 to 1878. Henry Davey’s brother Robert, who died without children in 1901, was the last of the Family to live at Overy. He left £200 to the Chapel on which he had also settled 32 acres of Land. In the same year, Bridge House was settled in Trust on the Priest serving the Chapel. In 1958 it was still being used as the Presbytery. The Congregation had increased to about 150.
The Demesne in which St Birinus RC Church stands was given by the Davey’s, a Recusant Family living at Overy just across the River Thame from Dorchester Village. The land is divided into approximately 3 Parts. The Presbytery and its adjoining Garden on the Bank of the Thame East of the Church.
Recusant: An English Roman Catholic of the time from about 1570 to 1791 who refused to attend services of the Church of England and thereby committed a Statutory Offence.
The small Church of St Birinus at Bridge End, built in 1849 in the Decorated style (Architect W Wardell), consists of Nave, Chancel, & South Porch, and has a Bell-cote. On the West front is a Statue of St Birinus. Inside are Brass Tablets to members of the Davey Family and one to the Rev Robert Newsham (d.1859). The Chapel possesses a pre-Reformation (c.1500) Chasuble and a small Ciborium of much later date, which may have been taken from the Chapel in the Daveys’ House at Overy. There is another Chalice inscribed ‘given by Lady Fettiplace to the Oxfordshire Mission for herself and her Family‘. The Cross on the High Altar is also old. The Church is West-East aligned. To the North, East & West is a Cemetery.
The Registers date from 1849 for Baptisms, 1856 for Marriages, & 1871 for Burials.